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January 23, 2018 10:38 am

New York Times Falsely Claims US Has Been ‘Neutral’ To Israel

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

An article in The New York Times falsely claims that America has a history of being “neutral” in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

The article, an “Interpreter” column by Max Fisher, appears under the online headline, “Trump’s Hard-Line Israel Position Exports U.S. Culture War Abroad.”

It makes the false “neutral” claim three times.

First comes the assertion:

Picking sides has long been taboo in American policy, with presidents asserting that the United States must remain neutral in order to negotiate peace. Mr. Trump, breaking with this practice, answers a major conservative demand.

Then the claim is repeated a second time, “George W. Bush, then the president, encouraged both inclusion of Muslims and neutrality on Israel.”

And then it is repeated a third time: “These policies meet rising conservative demands that the United States abandon its traditional neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and instead side overtly with Israel.”

The idea that the United States has been “neutral” toward Israel, or had been until President Trump came in and abruptly changed everything, is just flat-out false.

My authoritative Webster’s Second Unabridged dictionary defines the word neutral as

  1. (a) not taking part in either side of a quarrel; (b) not taking part in a war; giving no active aid to any belligerent.
  2. Of, belonging to, or characteristic of a nation not taking part in a war
  3. Belonging to neither of two classes; in a middle position between two extremes; not one thing or the other; indifferent.

Switzerland is neutral. The United States is not neutral. The United States gives Israel billions of dollars a year in military aid and has been doing so for years, long predating President Trump. In 1987, President Reagan designated Israel a major non-NATO ally. As President George W. Bush put it in a speech to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2004, “For more than 50 years, the United States and Israel have been steadfast allies.”

Last year, Fisher used his Times column to liken Israel to the brutal dictatorship of North Korea. That column was also riddled with factual errors that remain uncorrected.

When the Times hired Fisher in 2016, we warned that he would be trouble:

Mr. Fisher’s work for Vox on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs has been thoroughly and effectively shredded by both David Bernstein of the Washington Post (here and here) and Noah Pollak of the Washington Free Beacon (“Let us praise Vox Media and its stooges as they stagger and stumble from one hilarious mishap to another, smacking each other in the face with two-by-fours and stepping on rakes.”)

If President Trump had made these sorts of factually erroneous claims and left them uncorrected, the Times would be all over him for waging an unprecedented war on truth. Newly-installed Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger publicly frets, “Misinformation is rising and trust in the media is declining… Growing polarization is jeopardizing even the foundational assumption of common truths, the stuff that binds a society together.”

If Sulzberger really believes what he says about truth and misinformation — “We will continue to put the fairness and accuracy of everything we publish above all else — and in the inevitable moments we fall short, we will continue to own up to our mistakes” — he’ll ask Fisher and Fisher’s editor for a correction to the “neutrality” nonsense. If he lets it stand uncorrected, it will reflect poorly not only on Fisher, but also on the newspaper’s new publisher. Eventually the rake-stepping stops being hilarious and just becomes embarrassing.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

 

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